The Raiders and New York Jets still are in playoff contention, despite being well below .500 through 12 games. Both staked their fortunes to a rookie quarterback, which is something that worked well for the Seahawks and Redskins last season.
The jury’s out on Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin and Jets counterpart Geno Smith. However, both are expected to start for their respective teams Sunday, with the team that loses all but certainly eliminated from playoff contention.
Jets coach Rex Ryan is on his second rookie quarterback since he became the team’s head coach. First it was Mark Sanchez, a first-round draft pick. Now it’s Smith, who was selected in the second round.
“We’ve experienced some ups and downs and things, but the best way to learn is the player gets out and plays,” Ryan said in a conference call with Bay Area media.
That philosophy worked well for Terrelle Pryor, who started one game his first two NFL seasons but entered this season as the unquestioned starter after a sterling training camp.
His reign lasted all of eight games before he was sidelined with a right knee injury and ultimately replaced by undrafted rookie McGloin.
Like most rookies, they are prone to mistakes, Raiders coach Dennis Allen and safety Charles Woodson said.
“He’s like most young quarterbacks that come into this league and are thrown into the fire right away,” Woodson said in an interview with NFL Network. “He’s going to for the most part let you know where he’s going with the ball and teams are able to get their reads on him pretty quickly.
“People have been getting to him in the rush and making him make bad decisions back there in the pocket. Our game plan is really what everybody else has been doing: try to get pressure on him, make him antsy back there in the pocket and hopefully he’ll deliver that ball to us.”
Avoiding those pitfalls is a strenght of McGloin’s. In his three starts, he has been decisive, quick to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks.
“I see a guy that makes a lot of quick decisions with the football,” Ryan said. “He’s accurate and he’s very poised. I see a guy that has outstanding fundamentals and plays smart. It seems like it’s coming out quick and he knows where to go with the football.”
— Rashad Jennings prides himself on being in tip-top shape, doing everything he can to ensure that he is as fit as possible and making the most of every opportunity.
Yet, even he can’t do much about avoiding or speeding up the recovery process from a concussion. To that end, he’s still questionable for the Jets game.
“I never in my life have been in a locker room and not planned to play,” Jennings said Thursday. “And never in my life have I made that decision whether I’m playing or not.”
That’s the key point here. Whether or not Jennings plays Sunday is contingent upon his passing a series of league-mandated tests. Allen said Jennings has cleared some in the week since Jennings suffered the head injury.
If Jennings can’t play, Allen said, the Raiders will go with a “running back-by-committee” against the Jets. In other words, you’re apt to see Marcel Reece, Taiwan Jones and Jamize Olawale.
— Strong safety Tyvon Branch made it through his first day of practice Wednesday without any setbacks in his return from a severe ankle injury. That enabled him to push it a little more Thursday, which he did without any lingering effects.
Even so, Allen said Brandian Ross is going to start against the Jets, with Branch entering the game at some point as a means of easing him back into the mix.
“You have to see what he’s able to do,” Allen said. “If he’s able to go and can function and be productive we’ll put him in there and let him keep playing.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson ought to take up juggling as a side job given how well he has dealt with so many injuries and lineup changes the first three months of this season.
That mixing and matching began in training camp, carried right into the regular season and hasn’t abated. Worse, Olson has been forced to alter his plans at every position — quarterback, offensive line, tight end, wide receiver and running back.
Naturally, the Raiders offense has been disjointed at times and far from a juggernaut.
“Lack of continuity, certainty, isn’t a recipe for success when you’re doing that, we’re finding that out,” Olson said. “They’re competing and we’re giving ourselves a chance to win games, we just have to find a way to win them in the end.”
Consider, Olson is working with a starting quarterback that wasn’t projected to make the 53-man, opening-day roster. Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn and McGloin started games so far this season.
He also went 11 games without left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, hasn’t had access to tight end David Ausberry at all, has coached games without wide receivers Andre Holmes and Denarius Moore, and now is working with a running backs corps so depleted that Taiwan Jones converted from cornerback.
“When you look before the season started and what are the Raiders, where are the Raiders going to be? Certainly our goal is to score more points,” Olson said. “Has that happened? Have we scored more? No, we have not done that. I believe that part of it is lack of continuity, part of it is lack of depth.
“When you look back at the beginning of the season, and where we’re at, everyone has injuries. Those teams that may not be as talented, when they have injuries during the season, it takes a bigger toll. That’s been a big part of it is the constant turnover and the constant changes in the lineup.”
This might come off as self preservation coming from someone else. In Olson’s case, he’s simply stating the facts.
For example, the 49ers went all of last season and most of this season with their offensive line intact. Olson hasn’t had his projected starting offensive line on the field at one time yet this season.
— Woodson’s dealings with Bay Area media is limited to postgame interviews. Yet, he is a regular guest on national shows during the week.
So, the best we can do during the week is to pass along things Woodson says elsewhere, while his teammates handle the day-to-day interviews.
Here’s Woodson’s take on the Raiders being in playoff contention, as told to NFL Network:
“It’s crazy to be here at 4-8 and not completely be out of the race,” Woodson said. “That’s pretty amazing to me. We have four games left and we want to do this thing right for the rest of the season. We’re looking forward to going in there and playing the Jets this Sunday.”
— Credit Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston for his candor based on his assessment of his play against the Cowboys.
In that game, Houston got shut down in pretty sound fashion by left offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Houston recorded two tackles out of the 67 snaps he played.
“I don’t I think I did too well,” Houston said. “In certain situations, I probably should have used different rushes. I don’t think I was picking my moves well. My timing was off. The aiming point with which I was coming at the tackle was bad. I should have studied more and thought about the depth of the linemen. That was really effective for them.
“It wasn’t a good game overall for me. So I’ve got to definitely show improvement this game and bring it, because that was probably the worst game I think I’ve played in my life.”
— Olson offered this rather telling nugget, when asked if McGloin has separated himself from Pryor.
“I don’t know if you would say that,” Olson said. “I just think that right now, that he is continuing to improve. Again, we always talk about the opportunity. He was given an opportunity when Terelle got hurt and he’s running with it right now.”